Instead, top-seeded North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kentucky will meet Sunday in the South Regional final that will make more history featuring teams with the most combined NCAA Tournament wins. But the Tar Heels have faced bigger, tougher opponents, none more so than their own memories of the 2016 final. That's because Fox had 24 and Carolina's Justin Jackson 34, and the Wildcats' Malik Monk 47, the freshman not stopping until he hit the game-winner with 16.7 seconds left. Coach Roy Williams improved to 9-4 in regional finals overall and 5-3 at North Carolina.
The last time Butler and North Carolina squared off in basketball was in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, a game won by the Bulldogs 74-66.
Years from now - heck, hours from now - folks will note this game's stats and wonder how it was ever close.
After UNC beat Butler on Friday, the Wildcats punched their ticket to the Elite 8 by beating UCLA. It only came to that because Florida coach Mike White made a decision to nurse a late double-digit lead by trying to run clock instead of continuing to attack. North Carolina soon took the lead back, and never gave it back. Not only are they the most well-rounded team in the tournament, but they're playing with a major chip on their shoulder after losing in the national championship previous year on a buzzer-beating dagger from Villanova's Kris Jenkins.
Butler had also won the last two meetings between the teams, which came in 2012 and 2014 on neutral site courts. A month later, the sophomore's 15 rebounds played a significant part in his team's 96-83 triumph over Florida State on January 14.
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No. 3 Baylor vs. East Tennessee State, Virginia and Wisconsin - and posted a scoring margin 5 points better. The top four seeds made it to the Sweet 16, and the Wildcats and Tar Heels moved within a game of the Final Four with double-digit wins. No team in the tournament has played better defense than SC, and no player has taken over as consistently as Sindarius Thornwell. But Maye streaked down the floor, hustled to a spot on the left wing, planted one foot inside the arc and extended his reign as North Carolina's most surprising performer of the NCAA tournament when he hit a shot with 0.3 seconds to play.
And now Kentucky fans know North Carolina's pain. In 1995, Coach Pitino's Cats fell to the Tar Heels, and Coach Pitino led the Cats to a championship in 1996.
Gonzaga is a 6 1/2-point favorite against SC in the opening game next Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, while North Carolina is a 4 1/2-point pick over OR in the nightcap.
The problem is, Fox and Monk don't always play to their full potential.
North Carolina improved to 31-7.
Neither team is expecting a similar offensive slugfest the second time around, but things are different for the Wildcats and Tar Heels going into the final week of the season. Luke Maye shoots a bit - and had a breakout game against Butler - but post behemoths like Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley make the Heels incredibly hard to handle inside on offense. Fox drove into a wall of Tar Heels defenders and fell down, but there was no whistle, only a cascade of boos as both teams walked toward their locker rooms with North Carolina holding a 38-33 halftime lead.